The place is Sioux Center, IA on campus at Dordt College. It’s a "Cruzin’ to Caucus" Ted Cruz event and the De Jager Student Activity Building is bursting at the seams.
The lower level holds about 300 people with all the seats full and another 100 standing. The balcony is also full with another large group of students and late arrivals.
Sioux County, Iowa is a bastion of conservatism with about 95 percent of voters registered as Republican, so it shouldn’t be of any surprise.
There is a video screen to the left of center stage depicting images of Cruz rallies in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. The backdrop behind the stage, in large two-foot lettering, is the oft seen brand name of trusted, using the play on words of ‘trust’ and ‘ted’.
An American flag is draped to the left, and an Iowa flag is draped on the right.
There are campaign workers migrating through the crowd passing out lapel and bumper stickers and getting people to sign-up as committed voters, precinct workers, or simply yard sign planters. What is not lost on the Cruz campaign is the need to connect.
The Cruz campaign is working the crowd from many angles, all in view of getting the vote. Inspirational music plays overhead, and the din of the crowd is an anxious murmur of anticipation for the senator to make his appearance.
All the officials are present as well. There is Rep. Steve King, Iowa’s 4th District Republican Congressman in attendance, having endorsed the Senator a few months prior to the big run-up to caucus day.
Also, Bob Vander Plaats, Director of The Family Leader and another endorser of Cruz, is milling around the hall talking to local dignitaries and familiar faces.
Vander Plaats leads the socially conservative organization in Iowa and is known for rallying the defeat of three of Iowa’s Supreme Court Justices up for reelection in 2010, shortly after they confirmed Iowa’s gay marriage law.
Just prior to the event, a press gaggle is held where the senator could meet with reporters and answer questions. Several reporters from print and TV media are present, and they crowd around a wall back-dropped with the Cruz campaign branding.
The senator arrives about 15 minutes behind schedule and takes his place to answer questions. To no one’s surprise, the topic was Donald Trump.
Earlier in the day, Trump decided to again wade into the ankle-deep waters and splash Cruz with one of his famous, media-attention-getting sound bites. Trump questioned Cruz’ citizenship and if in-fact the senator is eligible for the presidency of the United States.
The question has its basis in the fact that Cruz’ father is Cuban, born in Cuba, and his mother is a natural American citizen. At the time of Cruz’ birth, his parents were living in Canada, so Trump entertained the notion that, because the senator was born on foreign ground this makes him ineligible.
Forget the fact that thousands of American citizens have been born on foreign soil from years past to parents who are Americans citizens. It’s a non-starter and the U.S. Constitution is clear on this matter, but for the Donald, it works perfectly to keep him front-and-center and not have to pay a dime for it.
Cruz takes the first question and of course it’s about Trumps accusation. Cruz tells the first reporter that he tweeted out a response to Trump and provided a link to the "Happy Days" episode where Fonzie jumps the shark.
Reaching back in your memory files, if you are old enough, you will remember that this is one of the more memorable episodes of the Happy Days sitcom; one, because Fonzie never wore shorts and two, because it was so laughable.
The sitcom was on its way to the junkyard of fondly remembered oldies and this episode presented desperation in gimmickry to gain more viewers. Hence, if you work in corporate America, the phrase is used to describe that very act; gimmickry to revive something.
Pool reporters make a second and then a third attempt to get Cruz to bite on their hook and take a swipe at Trump, but the senator isn’t biting. Cruz shows a cool-headed approach to the feeding frenzy of the reporters.
His response strikes the balance between the brevity of wit while avoiding the murkiness of mudslinging. Cruz retorts, “I think the American people could not care less about a bunch of politicians bickering like school children.” The press remains uninhibited.
Another reporter decides to up the ante by stating the next question, “he’s, (Trump), questioned your ethnicity, he’s questioned your faith, now he’s questioning your eligibility to run for president. Isn’t this just playing into the Democrats playbook?”
Cruz begins to answer and is quickly interrupted by the same reporter who now claims the senator is deflecting.
Now Cruz schools the reporter as if he is the head master and the reporter is the youngling in need of direction. Cruz states, “here’s how this works; you get to ask the question and I get to answer.” The reporter remains undaunted and returns to his deflection charge.
Again the senator reiterates with, “we’re not going to engage in a debate. You don’t get to answer the question, you get to ask the question. I will give you an answer.”
There is little doubt that Cruz has a masterful ability to handle the press and did so demonstrating this with quips, wit, and retorts that he will not be manipulated by any member of the press and will in-fact be the manipulator.
Yet Donald Trump is the true master of the media universe. The tycoon from New York continues to trump others in his ability to keep them off balance while he himself remains front and center in the media cycle. He does this with Cruz, with the Clintons, with the media and with the Republican establishment.
Even in the epicenter of Iowa conservatism on the prairie in Sioux Center, Iowa, Cruz cannot escape the reach of Trump. So we find out that not only does Trump know how to jump the shark, but he can do what Fonzie failed to do; keep the Trump franchise churning and winning with barely one red cent being spent from his personal wealth.
Not bad; not bad at all.
Michael McDaniel is a political commentator who has been covering election politics in Iowa for over a decade. For more of his reports, Go Here Now
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